Monday, February 7, 2005

Los Angeles county registrar blasts tighter certification process

Last Friday's Sacramento Bee carried a front-page story about Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack's testimony to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which has been investigating Kevin Shelley's use of federal HAVA funds. Though Ms. McCormack has not yet testified before the committee, she did release her testimony to the news media.

According to the Bee, Ms. McCormack is now "asking lawmakers to pass emergency "narrowly crafted" legislation to override Shelley's office and temporarily certify 2004 systems for use in the 2006 elections. Such legislation also would have to suspend a state law requiring a paper trail."

It is unlikely, given the fact that the entire legislature voted unanimously to adopt the voter verified paper record requirement, that Ms. McCormack's efforts will succeed. It is disappointing, however, that the head of California's county registrars' association is fighting reform rather than embracing it. California voters would be much better served if all, and not just some of our local election officials were respectful of the public's desire for transparency and accountability in our voting systems.

The fact is that under Kevin Shelley's leadership, the Secretary of State's voting system certification process was tightened and strengthened, which cheered reform activists like me, but upset those registrars, such as Conny McCormack, who had been using uncertified software.

This practice was halted after the Secretary of State's office conducted an audit and discovered that uncertified software and hardware was being used in many California counties, and especially in those counties using Diebold voting equipment. The Attorney General and Alameda County even sued Diebold and were awarded several million dollars for the company's failure to meet its contractual agreement to provide certified software.

It is true that the certification process is taking longer than it did in the past, but that's because the process is more rigorous. No longer is the Secretary of State taking it on a vendor's word that their system is federally qualified; now the paperwork documenting federal qualification must be at the Secretary of State's office before state certification is awarded.

The goal of strengthening certification practices has spread to Washington State, where state election officials are conducting an audit similar to California's, as detailed in Michelle Nicolosi's February 4 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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